The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE changed everything. Few texts express the sense of loss and longing that resulted from this as poignantly as the Book of Lamentations. The five laments in the book give voice to an emotional response to the destruction of the city, blaming the sins of a personified Jerusalem for the horrors her citizens now face.
The fragment shown is from 4QLam (also known as 4Q111), the largest of the Lamentations scrolls from the Qumran texts discovered in the Judean desert. The text in this extract is Lamentations 1:6–10 (albeit with some important differences between the readings given in this scroll and the traditional Hebrew text, the Masoretic text).
Lamentations 1:6–10 speaks of Jerusalem’s sin and the punishments bestowed upon the city in colourful terms, with imagery whose shock value is exacerbated by the portrayal of Jerusalem as female: Jerusalem 'has become an impurity—all who honoured her make light of her, because they have seen her nakedness' (v. 8). Laying issues of gendered violence momentarily aside, this text points to some of the key questions raised in the aftermath of exile: what caused this, and what does this mean? For the author(s) of Lamentations, the answers are that Jerusalem’s own transgressions brought about its downfall, and the result is that the city and people have been abandoned by Yhwh. The lament tradition was a longstanding one and may be seen also in the Lament for the City of Ur.
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